What Love has to do with the Workplace

by | Jul 12, 2022 | Leadership

Neuroscience has not yet been able to explain how the brain deals with love, but it does recognize several neurotransmitters (brain chemistry molecules) involved in romantic love in the brain: oxytocin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and vasopressin along with the joy and wonder molecule anandamide, an endocannabinoid receptor that feels bliss, a high form of happiness.  In this vein, Marcus Buckingham wrote a fascinating entry for the May/June 2022 Harvard Business Review[1]Designing Work that People Love, based on his book.

Buckingham bases his thesis on data from a 2009 Mayo Clinic study[2] suggesting that 20% is a useful threshold for leaders to intentionally help workers to find love in some of what they do, every day.

A total of 385 of 437 physicians (88 percent) spent at least 20 percent (about one day per week) of their effort on the activity they reported to be most personally meaningful; those who did had about half the rate of burnout as those who spent less than 20 percent of their time on this activity (29.9 percent vs. 53.8 percent). – 2009 JAMA. – “a little love of what you do at work goes a long way.”

Buckingham goes on to explain how he understands that leaders can foster love in the workplace.

If leaders were to take all this data (of how workers find love in the strangest work settings) to heart and deliberately try to create what I call a Love + Work organization, in which a greater percentage of employees find love in what they do—even if only 20% of the time—how would they proceed? They would make sure that engaged and resilient people were uplifted rather than depleted by their jobs, and as a result delivered better services and products to their customers and made more-sustainable commitments to their communities. Although I know of no one organization today that fully embodies the Love + Work ideal, plenty are beginning to implement pieces of the three core principles.

Buckingham outlines his three core principles of Love +Work that are mindset shifts: viewing employees as the key stakeholders in the organization; moving away from standardization in performance management tools; and trusting employees to accomplish their performance goals the way they see fit.

The People Are the Point: True Love +Work is built on a recognition of and commitment to the fundamental importance of each person who comes to work, as held by Milton Friedman’s capitalism that holds an organization’s sole purpose is to maximize shareholders’ value and Joseph Stiglitz’s idea that organizations maximize value to customers, employees, and the broader community. … Organizations see employees as the integrating point for stakeholders. … The employee is viewed as a full human being.

Companies recruit human beings, not workers – example of Lululemon’s hiring practices.

Commit to lifelong learning – invest in the ongoing education of each employee.

Support alumni – previous employees remain part of the organization by staying close to a strong alumni community that can offer practical benefits in the form of existing client growth and referrals. This is also a lululemon practice.

One Size Fits One – people in the same job love and do their work very differently – empower teams and leaders to make the most of each employee’s uniqueness.

Avoid tools that standardize – each role is defined by few measured outcomes rather than competency. Feedback generally consists of one person smothering another. Careers will be designed by an employee’s own interest and skills.

Focus on teams – teams are important to employees to be more likely engaged.

In Trust We Growthere’s a link between trust and outcomes that love at work produces – trust of teams and leaders drives the ability of employees to discover and do what they love.  Organizations build trust by paying attention to employees through their team leaders.

Takeaway: It’s a new world of work: smart organizations recognize they can design work with love at its core and they will find the best people to love their work. 


[1] Harvard Business Review – https://hbr.org/2022/05/designing-work-that-people-love – from his book:  Love + Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life; Harvard Business Review Press, 2022.

[2] May 25, 2009, JAMA – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090525173536.htm